Terracotta Tablet from Girsu

Terracotta Tablet from Girsu

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Archaeology and the Ancient Creation Stories

When studying Genesis and archaeology, questions always come up about what archaeology has found that relates to the creation narratives of Genesis. Without getting into the fields of geology, biology, or astrophysics, finds from archaeology that connect to the account in Genesis have primarily come in the form of ancient texts recounting different perspectives on the creation story. Many of these documents, usually clay tablets, were excavated at cities in Mesopotamia, although ancient creation stories have also been discovered in Egypt and Greece. Often the earlier the creation text, the more similarities there are to the Genesis account, suggesting that as time passed, views on creation diverged more and more while new theologies were infused into the stories.

The oldest and most important of these ancient Near Eastern creation stories come from Mesopotamia. The Sumerians of southern Mesopotamia, who composed the oldest written records of any civilization yet discovered, also wrote extensively about the origins of the heavens and earth. In particular, a Sumerian tablet from Girsu, now in modern Iraq, written during the 3rd millennium BC, perhaps as early as 2900 BC, recounted a time at the beginning of creation in which the daylight and moonlight did not shine because the sun and moon did not yet exist, when the “lesser gods” (angels) had not yet been created, and when the fields and vegetation were still merely dust. The text also states that the earth was filled with water as part of the creation process. These statements are similar to what is found in the first several verses of Genesis, prior to the creation of the sun and moon (Genesis 1:1-12). In this text and other Mesopotamian creation stories, Heaven, Earth, and Water were personified as the original Divine trio, although Lord Heaven is specifically referred to in this tablet, perhaps as the creator god. A slightly later Sumerian tablet, called the Eridu Genesis, contains a story of creation and the flood. It was discovered at the city of Nippur, between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in Mesopotamia. The tablet derives its name from, Eridu, the first city mentioned in the story. While the surviving text dates to about 1600 BC, it is a copy of an original that may have been composed around 2200 BC. The Eridu Genesis addresses the creation of humans, that humans had lost their way, kingship and cities, and the flood story with Ziusudra as the “Noah” protagonist. The text, while shorter, has many parallels to the first nine chapters of Genesis.

To the north, at Ebla in northern Mesopotamia (currently Syria), excavations discovered an archive of about 20,000 clay tablets which give insight into economic, political, historical, religious, and linguistic aspects of life in Ebla. More than 8,000 of these tablets were from about 2400-2000 BC. Out of these thousands of tablets, 3 have been recovered and translated which contain a short creation poem. This is one of the earliest copies of any creation text yet discovered, although it is very short. The poem translates as “Lord of heaven and earth, you had not made the earth exist, you created (it),You had not established the sun, you created (it),You had not (yet) made the morning light exist, Lord: efficacious word, Lord: prosperity, Lord: heroism Lord: …Lord: independent, Lord: divinity, Lord who saves, Lord: happy life.” Reading this and looking at Genesis, one notices similarities to Genesis 1:1-18. The Ebla text, however, is concerned with the initial creation of earth, light, and the sun, while sections such as the creation of plants, animals, and humans may have been in lost sections of the poem or not addressed. Especially notable about this creation poem is that it mentions only one god, and that he existed before creation.

A few centuries later, the famous Babylonian epics of Atra-Hasis and Enuma Elish were written. Although separate stories, the two texts have an extremely similar creation account. Atra-Hasis, perhaps as early as 1900 BC, begins with a time in which a god rules heaven, another rules earth, and a third rules the sea. The “lesser gods,” who sound a bit like angelic beings, are then created to do the bidding of the original gods, but these lesser gods rebel against their creator. Later, the gods create humans for the purpose of doing hard labor. The way in which the story describes the creation of humans is extremely interesting due to its parallels with Genesis. The Atra-Hasis epic states that humans were created by shaping clay figurines infused with the blood of a slain god, similar to the description in Genesis of how Adam was created by shaping him of dust from the earth and then breathed the breath of life into him. Another Sumerian text, known from a tablet dated to about 1400 BC, recounts part of the life of the first man named “Adapa,” recording that this first man talked with the gods, and that the creator god advised him not to eat or drink of what the other gods would offer him because it would bring him death. These appear to be parallels to the story of Adam and the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden.

Although many similarities can be noted between these ancient Mesopotamian creation stories and the Genesis account of creation, there are also obvious differences. Genesis is unique in its narrative approach and its purpose, Genesis has only one God rather than multiple, bickering, anthropomorphic gods, and unlike the Genesis account, these other myths were generally designed to explain such things as the rise or supremacy of a certain god, the importance of a particular city, or the preeminence of a particular dynasty rather than recount literally what occurred in the distant past. Yet, these texts are extremely important in demonstrating that people from the earliest civilizations knew about the creation of the world, of mankind, of angels, and that an original creator god or gods existed in the time before creation. While archaeology cannot prove the creation event, ancient texts recovered through archaeology can at least show us that what Moses recorded in Genesis was believed as historical and not simply a fairy tale that he invented, nor did he copy the creation stories of the Mesopotamian or Egyptians.

Archaeology and the Ancient Creation Stories

Dr. Titus Kennedy is a field archaeologist working primarily with sites and materials related to the Bible. He works with ColdWater Media and Drive Thru History® to maintain historical accuracy throughout their scripts and locations.

Possibly the World’s Oldest “Yo Mama” Joke Found on a Tablet in Iraq

Humor doesn’t always translate across time and geography and language barrier — what’s funny in 1820 China might not be humorous in 1984 Canada, for example. Nonetheless, some 3,500 years ago, six riddles were inscribed on a clay tablet in Iraq that could very well have been laughed out loud funny in their time — and one may even contain the oldest “Yo Mama” joke known to man. But in our time, we’re having a bit of trouble.

The jokes were believed to have been written by a Babylonian student about 1500 B.C. The damaged tablet was discovered in 1976 by archaeologist J. J. van Dijk. The tablet has since vanished, but van Dijk preserved what was written on it.

Panorama of partially restored Babylon ruins, Hillah, Iraq.

Scholars Michael Streck and Nathan Wasserman studied the riddles, translated them, and several years ago published their findings in the journal Iraq, put out by the British Institute for the Study of Iraq.

The tablet displayed a half-dozen riddles, which Wasserman and Streck analyzed. Though they call the tablet an example of “wisdom literature,” meaning these were metaphors meant to impart truths, at least a few of the riddles sounded like some attempts at a joke.

The riddles’ subject matter? Politics, sex, beer, and a joke about a mom.

Miniature clay tablets from Babylon. Photo by Mr. Kate CC BY-SA 3.0

The mother joke is fragmentary and cryptic: “…of your mother is by the one who has intercourse with her. What/who is it?”

Another sexual “joke”: “The deflowered girl did not become pregnant. The undeflowered girl became pregnant. What is it? [Answer] Auxiliary forces.”

The blog io9 said, “Admittedly, that one is a bit conceptual. It’s also possible that we’ve discovered the ancient Babylonian answer to Andy Kaufman. Either way, I want to see ‘auxiliary forces’ as everybody’s go-to punchline starting…NOW.”

Math whizzes of ancient Babylon figured out forerunner of calculus

The researcher Wasserman admitted that he doesn’t get this joke. Auxiliary forces are often below-average soldiers, “and they are not really trustworthy, sometimes they run away in the middle of the battle.”

The one that might be easiest for modern minds to grasp is this one: “In your mouth and your teeth, constantly stared at you, the measuring vessel of your lord.
[What is it?] Beer.” One researcher helpfully theorized that “in your mouth and your teeth” could mean “urine.”

Early writing tablet recording the allocation of beer in southern Iraq, 3100–3000 BC.

Never let it be said that the Babylonians were afraid to speak truth to power. Here’s a political jab: “He gouged out the eye. It is not the fate of a dead man. He cut the throat: A dead man [Who is it?] The governor.”

“This riddle describes the power of a governor, namely to act as a judge who punishes or sentences to death,” Streck, a professor at the Altorientalisches Institut at Universitat Leipzig, told The Media Line.

Medical recipe concerning poisoning. Terracotta tablet, from Nippur, Iraq, 18th century BC. Photo by Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP(Glasg) CC BY-SA 4.0

The jokes’ text was written in Akkadian, and cuneiform script. It was a language used by the Babylonians. “This is a relatively rare genre — we don’t have many riddles,” Wasserman told LiveScience.

After the wars in Iraq and the museum’s pillaging in 2003, the tablets’ current whereabouts are unknown. Streck told reporters that he and Wasserman used photographs to decipher the tablets.

“We copied them by hand, which is no easy task, and deciphered them and translated them and put them into historical context,” Streck said in an interview.

The ruins of Babylon, the most famous city from ancient Mesopotamia, are located in modern day Iraq.

According to the Jerusalem Post, Streck said that the riddles were designed to communicate truths about life and were probably making the rounds orally before scribes recorded them. He said the scribe responsible for the six tablets was probably a student — and he doubted that he was one at the top of his class since they were poorly written.

Some of the words were missing and, according to van Dijk, they showed “very careless writing.”

The riddles are among many texts studied in a project called “Sources of Early Akkadian Literature: A Text Corpus of Babylonian and Assyrian Literary Texts from the third and second millennia BC.” Only several hundred people in the world can read and understand this ancient writing, Streck said.

The Ancient Sumerian tablet of Nippur is the oldest description of the Great Flood

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Many people are completely unaware of the fact that the first and most ancient story of the Great Deluge originated in ancient Sumeria. According to ancient inscriptions, it was ‘Eridu’, –modern day Abu Shahrein, Iraq– where the gods created the first city on the planet. Eridu was home to the ancient Sumerian God Enki, who erected the city in 5400 BC.

The ancient Sumerian Nippur tablet describes the oldest account of the Great Flood and the creation of both humans and animals on our planet and records the names of Antediluvian cities on earth and their respective rulers:

This ancient clay tablet from ancient Nippur is the only surviving document of the Sumerian flood story.

According to the Ancient Sumerian King List, Eridu was the home city of the first kings: “After the kingship descended from heaven, the kingship was in Eridu”.

The story of the great deluge or great flood can be found in the accounts of the Eridu Genesis, the ancient Sumerian texts which accurately describes the creation of the world, the foundation of the cities and the mighty flood that swept across the land.

The Eridu Genesis, which is believed to have been composed circa 2,300 BCE, is the earliest known account of the Great Flood predating the more popular Great Flood described in the biblical book of Genesis.

As of 2300 BC we discover numerous written records of the creation of man, mighty cities and the flood that destroyed everything. Referred to by mainstream scholars as the Nippur Tablet, the ancient clay tablet recovered from the ancient city of Nippur is the only existing ancient document of the Sumerian Flood Story. It contains six columns of written text, three per side with approximately 10 to 15 lines in each column and is written in ancient Sumerian. The ancient clay tablet does not only describe the oldest account of the Great Flood, but it also describes the creation of both humans and animals on our planet and records the names of Antediluvian cities on earth and their respective rulers:

After Anu, Enlil, Enki, and Ninhursag had fashioned the black-headed people, Vegetation sprang from the earth, Animals, four-legged creatures of the plain, Were brought artfully into existence [37 lines are unreadable]

After the….of kingship had been lowered from heaven After the exalted crown and the throne of kingship Had been lowered from heaven, He perfected the rites and exalted the divine ordinances… He founded the five cities in pure places,… Then did Nintu weep like a…. The pure Inanna set up a lament for its people Enki took council with himself, Anu, Enlil, Enki, and Ninhursag…. The gods of heaven and earth uttered the name of Anu and Enlil Then did Ziusudra, the king, the priest of…, Build, a giant… Humbly obedient, reverently he… Attending daily, constantly he…, Bringing forth all kinds of dreams, he…, Uttering the name of heaven and earth, he…[…] the gods a wall…, Ziusudra, standing at its side, listened. “Stand by the wall at my left side…, By the wall I will say a word to you, Take my word, Give ear to my instructions: By our…a flood will sweep over the cult- enters To destroy the seed of mankind…, Is the decision, the word of the assembly of the gods. By the word commanded by Anu and Enlil…, Its kingship, its rule will be put to an end.

[about 40 lines missing] All the windstorms, exceedingly powerful, Attacked as one, At the same time, the flood sweeps over the cult-centers. After, for seven days, the flood sweeps over the cult centers. After, for seven days and seven nights, The flood had swept over the land, And the huge boat had been tossed About by the windstorms on the great waters, Utu came forth, who sheds light on heaven and earth, Ziusudra opened a window of the huge boat, The hero Utu brought his rays into the giant boat. Ziusudra, the king, Prostrated himself before Utu.

[about 40 lines missing] All the windstorms, exceedingly powerful, Attacked as one, At the same time, the flood sweeps over the cult-centers. After, for seven days, the flood sweeps over the cult centers. After, for seven days and seven nights, The flood had swept over the land, And the huge boat had been tossed About by the windstorms on the great waters, Utu came forth, who sheds light on heaven and earth, Ziusudra opened a window of the huge boat, The hero Utu brought his rays into the giant boat. Ziusudra, the king, Prostrated himself before Utu. (source)

Time Travel: Does this terracotta tablet from around 1000 BCE depict Lord Krishna and Arjuna?

A 9-cm wide terracotta artefact lies in Hong Kong, in the possession of an art dealer, but the inferences and interpretations from it could possibly lead to interesting revelations about the time period of the Indian epic Mahabharata and its occurrence.

The tablet depicts a man holding four horses, standing on the back of a half chariot with a spoked wheel. There are two figures in the chariot, one who is presumably the charioteer, while another has his hand pointed in a direction. Both the figures in the chariot have quivers that contain arrows.

Curious to know more about the tablet, Jeremy Pine, the owner had sent a picture of it to Dr Nanditha Krishna, CPR Institute of Indological Research and requested her to share her interpretations of the same and its historical significance. Dr Nanditha along with other historians and domain experts had studied the image and historical texts to draw inferences.

According to a document shared with the media, the tabled is said to have been authenticated by Oxford Authentication using Thermoluminescence (TL testing) on May 14th 2019. The result of which states that the terracotta was fired between 2300 and 3600 years ago i.e. 1600 to 300BCE.

This date corresponds to the late Indus Valley Culture (1500 BCE) and the historical period (600 BCE), a period known as the Painted Grey Ware Culture, an Iron Age Culture of North India lasting roughly from 1200BCE to 600BCE. According to &ldquoThe Painted Grey Ware Culture of the Iron Age&rdquo by B.B. Lal, the period has been associated with the settlements at Hastinapura and the 5 villages which the Pandavas asked from the Kauravas in the epic Mahabharata.

Dr Nanditha Krishna, based on her 4-month study and interpretation of the images of the terracotta told WION, &ldquoWe see four horses in a war chariot, the art of managing horses was fairly well developed by this time, till now we do not have horses belonging to 1000BC, we don&rsquot see horses in any kind of art. It has a spoked wheel, which is described in the Rig Veda, which means that the Mahabharata also uses the same spoked wheel. All these inferences link it to the Mahabharata age.&rdquo

Speaking of the possible identity of the two men on the chariot, she said, &ldquoMany people in the Mahabharata are said to have driven four-horse chariots, but only Arjuna&rsquos four horses are given specific names and have an identity of their own. When I saw it, the first thing I thought was- this is Krishna and Arjuna. The general picture of &lsquoGitopadesham&rsquo is that of Krishna holding the horses and Arjuna pointing to his grandfather and his cousins and refusing to fight them.&rdquo

However, the observations also note that since Krishna chose not to fight, the second quiver of arrows could not belong to him. One of the reasons stated is that Arjuna- the world&rsquos greatest archer, may need more than one quiver of arrows for a day of battle.

Another possibility is mentioned as, when Arjuna asks Krishna what he would do if Arjuna is killed in battle, Krishna says, &ldquomaybe the fire will become cold, but if it happens, I will take up my weapons and kill Karna and Salya&rdquo. So, maybe Krishna had his weapons with him &ldquojust in case&rdquo?

According to the observations, if the two figures are Arjuna and Krishna as suggested, this would be the earliest available portrayal of the &lsquoGitopadesham&rsquo scene of the Bhagwad Gita, going back to about 1000BCE. The two figures are also seen as wearing Harappa-style headbands. Thus raiding the question if the Mahabharata go into the late Harappan period?

What makes it even more interesting is that this observation, if it can be proved in other ways, would take the Bhagavad Gita and Mahabharata to a much earlier period than generally accepted.The chariot in the terracotta tablet is said to be similar to a half-chariot that was excavated from Sanauli in Uttar Pradesh&rsquos Baghpat district. the find is said to be dated back to around 2000-1800BCE. Baghpat is said to be one of the five villages demanded by the Pandavas. However, the major difference remains that the Sanauli wheel is solid, whereas the terracotta tablet depicts a spoked wheel.

&ldquoI have no doubt personally that this is Krishna and Arjuna, but I will agree with anyone who says that there is no inscription that says so. But why would you just have two people - one driving the chariot and another pointing in one direction, that&rsquos only the &lsquoGitopadesham&rsquo. Which makes the &lsquoGitopadesham&rsquo, just on the basis of this tablet, a minimum of 1000BCE" Dr Nanditha Krishna told WION.

Ancient sites similar to or like Girsu

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Terracotta Tablet from Girsu - History

My job is to assess the condition of the objects from Ur being studied as part of the Ur digitisation project, conserve them if necessary, and guide the project team on handling and safe storage of the objects before/during photography and further digitisation work. I joined the project in August 2013 to lead the conservation and my first responsibility was to assess and conserve the terracotta objects and the clay tablets with ancient cuneiform inscriptions on study loan from Iraq.

Assessing the condition of the Humbaba terracotta mask

Fired clay mask of Humbaba. Old Babylonian, 2000–1700 BC From Ur, southern Iraq, H: 8 cm, W: 7 cm, British Museum, ME 127443. (Photo: (c) The Trustees of the British Museum)

There are over a thousand terracotta objects from Ur in the British Museum’s collection, primarily reliefs, figurines and models. Although some are skilfully modelled, the majority are rather crude and mass-produced in moulds. My initial task was to assess each one, selecting those that needed treatment and completing the work before they could be handled and photographed. In the image above, you can see me assessing the condition of one of the important objects from Ur, the fired clay mask of Humbaba, a fearsome monster slain by Gilgamesh in Mesopotamian literature. During the process, colleagues from ceramics and glass conservation joined me to complete the assessment work on the objects, while I undertook the actual conservation treatments.

Following the terracotta objects, I assessed the condition of the pottery from Ur. This large collection comprises over a thousand ceramic vessels in various sizes, shapes, colours and fabrics. This was a huge challenge! Every day, my colleague Gareth Brereton and I went to one of British Museum’s storage areas where the pottery from Ur is housed. We set up a small working area in this room for object assessments, photography and registration. There were a large number of cupboards to go through, so Gareth and I worked almost every morning together, assessing the condition of each pot so that Gareth could handle, photograph and register them. We had plenty of exercise going up and down the ladder each morning as some of the objects were stored very high up in the shelves.

Most terracotta objects and ceramic vessels from Ur are in good condition. They sometimes require conservation work, since they have unstable fragments, flakes or cracks on their surfaces. This is very normal due to the age of the objects, most are which are about 4,000 years old. It is crucial that the necessary treatments are undertaken. When unstable objects are not treated using proper conservation techniques and materials, further problems may occur during storage and handling, such as loss of surfaces and decoration, cracks, breakage of fragments that can make it difficult to study and learn more from the objects.

Stabilising the surface of a large ceramic vessel from Ur

I identify any cracks and/or unstable flakes on the surface of the vessels before stabilising them using conservation grade materials. I often use a fine brush or a micropipette for this work. Once the treatment is completed, I enter all my treatment records onto the British Museum’s curatorial database, Merlin, so that the information is accessible across the Museum and the world via the collection online.

Assessing a cuneiform tablet from Ur

I have also been assessing and undertaking conservation on the cuneiform tablets from Ur. It is particularly important to prevent the loss of surfaces from tablets, because that would mean loss of the text.

Apart from undertaking remedial ‘hands on’ work with objects, I am also responsible from supporting the Ur team when they have any questions about handling the objects safely, as some are very fragile. I also monitor the environmental conditions in the Ur project lab and storage cupboards, using digital sensors which we place in different areas. This is important because fluctuating temperature and relative humidity can severely damage archaeological objects. For example, soluble salts in the ceramic and clay fabrics can react very quickly with the fluctuating conditions, resulting in delamination and loss of object surfaces, which can contain elaborate decorations, pigments and reliefs.

When I have completed the conservation work on the pottery and the cuneiform tablets, I will move on to the conservation of other types of objects and materials from Ur, in order to prepare them for digitisation and further study. I am looking forward to the challenge!

Read more about the Ur digitisation project in Birger Helgestad’s post in July.

The Ur Project is supported by the Leon Levy Foundation.

The Oldest Bridge In The World

The ancient Sumerian city of Girsu, located approximately midway between the modern cities of Baghdad and Basrah, in southern Iraq, is one of the earliest known cities of the world. At least five thousand years old, Girsu became the capital of the Lagash kingdom, a sacred metropolis devoted to the Sumerian heroic god Ningirsu, and continued to be its religious center after political power had shifted to the city of Lagash. It was at Girsu that evidence of Sumerian civilization was first discovered in the form of thousands of cuneiform tablets with records of economic, administrative and commercial matters of the city. Over fifty years of excavations of this mega archeological site has brought to light some of the most important monuments of Sumerian art and architecture, including a 4,000-year old bridge built of baked brick, which is the oldest bridge discovered in the world to date.

Aerial view of the Bridge of Girsu. Photo credit: British Museum

Girsu was first excavated by a team of French archeologists in 1877, which was unfortunate, because the site was excavated too early before modern techniques of excavation and preservation had been invented. The French were also not very keen to follow protocol and paid little attention to preserving architectural remains. Treasure hunters then looted large quantities of tablets and other artifacts and sold them to collectors. It is estimated that between 35,000 to 40,000 tablets were looted from Girsu and subsequently appeared on the market, as opposed to only 4,000 tablets excavated by the French.

The Bridge of Girsu was first discovered in the 1920s. At that time it was variously interpreted as a temple, dam and water regulator. It was only recently that the structure was identified as a bridge over an ancient waterway. Since the excavation nearly a century ago, the bridge has remained open and exposed to the elements, with no effort made at conservation or plans to manage the site.

Girsu’s modern Arabic name is Tello, and this site is currently being used by the British Museum, with funding from the UK government, to train Iraqi archaeologists in cultural heritage management and practical fieldwork skills. According to a recent announcement made by the museum, restoring the 4,000-year-old bridge will be part of the training program.

4 The Dragon Boat Festival

Still held today, the Dragon Boat Festival is an extremely ancient celebration with roots in the Warring States period (although some argue that the true roots of the festival go back even further). According to legend, the festival is held in the memory of a poet and philosopher named Qu Yuan. A high-ranking member of the court of the Chu State, Qu Yuan spoke out in favor of uniting with rival states in order to oppose the power of Qin. His temerity got him exiled from the court, but he continued to write, becoming one of the most influential poets of the era. It was said that when he heard that Chu had fallen to the Qin, he drowned himself in the Miluo River.

The legend claims that when word spread of the beloved poet&rsquos fate, the people immediately took to the river to search for his body. Hence, a boat race is held every year on the anniversary of his death.

Along with the boat race, the festivities also include a type of dumpling called the zongzi, which also dates back to the poet. At the time, it was believed that only those whose physical bodies were intact would be allowed entrance to the afterlife. It&rsquos said that while some searched for the poet&rsquos body, others threw zongzi into the river in the hope that anything that might seek to devour his corpse would eat the dumplings instead.

4. Their weapons were extraordinarily well preserved.

During excavation of the pits containing the Terra Cotta Warriors, archaeologists have found some 40,000 bronze weapons, including battle axes, crossbows, arrowheads and spears. Even after more than 2,000 years, these weapons remained extremely well preserved thanks to protective chrome plating, a seemingly modern technique (first used in Germany in 1937 and the United States in 1950) that reveals the sophistication of ancient Chinese metallurgy.

Watch the video: 2350BC Sumerian clay cone and tablet


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